Kneading is an activity common to all domestic cats whereby, when in a state of contentment, they push the surface on which they are standing with their front paws. This may have an origin going back to their wild ancestors who would have had to tread down grass or foliage to make a temporary nest in which to rest or possibly a remnant of the newborn kneading of the mother's teat to stimulate milk secretion: kneading is often a precursor to sleeping. Actually, many cats also purr when kneading; they also do this mostly when newborn, while feeding or trying to feed on their mother's teat. The common association between the two behaviors may indicate the former's origins as a remnant instinct.
The action is complex—the cat exerts firm downwards pressure with its paw, opening its toes to expose its claws, then closes its claws as it lifts its paw. The process takes place with alternate paws at intervals of one to two seconds. They may do this while sitting on their owner's lap, which may prove painful if the cat is large or strong or has its claws intact (since while they knead, they may also stretch out their claws). While cats will sit happily on a hard surface, they will only knead a soft or pliant surface, although some cats will reflexively "march" on hard surfaces instead of kneading them.
In a garden where cats are to be found, sheltered areas can often reveal the "wild" results of kneading: round, cat-sized nests trodden into long grass. Domestic cats also make "nests" out of cardboard boxes (and such other things), if they get to use them as sleeping places; they do this also by kneading with their claws out, in a manner such as to scratch and soften some of the material. This action in different in manner, body language and intent from kneading when they are "happy".
"Making Muffins", "Happy Feet", "boop boping", "Push Paw", and "kitty biscuits" are other names for this behavior.
- .Best Friends - Making muffins A description of kneading by cats.